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State v. Edwards

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

October 27, 2016

Elton G. Edwards.

         Providence County Superior Court (P2/08-3287A) William E. Carnes, Jr., Associate Justice.

          For State: Christopher R. Bush Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Lara E. Montecalvo, Office of the Public Defender

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


          Gilbert V. Indeglia, Associate Justice

         The defendant, Elton G. Edwards (defendant or Edwards), appeals a five-count criminal conviction obtained after a jury-waived trial. This matter came before the Supreme Court on September 28, 2016, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised should not be summarily decided. After considering the arguments set forth in the parties' memoranda and at oral argument, we are convinced that cause has not been shown. Thus, further argument or briefing is not required to decide this matter. For the reasons outlined below, the Superior Court's judgment is affirmed.

         I Facts and Travel

         This appeal arises from a traffic stop on the evening of August 22, 2008. Two Providence police officers, Lt. (then Sgt.) Richard Fernandes and Officer John Reposa, [1] who were in the same police cruiser, stopped defendant at the intersection of Harold and Valley Streets in Providence. Beyond the stop itself, the parties present largely diverging factual scenarios. As a result of the incident, on October 31, 2008, the state filed a five-count criminal information against defendant, charging him with felony assault on a police officer (count 1); simple assault on a police officer (count 2); resisting arrest (count 3); driving under the influence of alcohol (count 4); and obstructing a police officer (count 5). The defendant waived his jury-trial right. After a two-day bench trial, Edwards was convicted on all counts.

         At trial, Lt. Fernandes testified that, at approximately 7:30 p.m. on August 22, 2008, while driving east on Valley Street in his police cruiser, he observed defendant's vehicle in the opposite lane traveling west. He also testified that defendant passed at least one other car and crossed the street's double yellow line, nearly striking the police cruiser. Lieutenant Fernandes turned around, activated his emergency lights and sirens, and stopped the vehicle. Lieutenant Fernandes exited the police cruiser and approached the driver's side of defendant's vehicle. Simultaneously, Officer Reposa approached the passenger's side. The defendant occupied the driver's seat; his girlfriend, Ms. Danika Rollins, sat in the front passenger seat; and Danika Rollins's aunt, Ms. Carol Rollins, occupied a back seat.[2]

         Standing at the driver's side, Lt. Fernandes requested defendant's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Lieutenant Fernandes testified that an "extremely agitated" defendant responded, "F**k you. What are you stopping me for?" Further, he testified that Edwards told him to go f**k himself when he again asked for documentation. According to Lt. Fernandes, defendant slammed his arms against the vehicle's dashboard. He suspected Edwards was intoxicated as he smelled alcohol on his breath, observed bloodshot, watery eyes, and empty beer bottles throughout the vehicle. Despite Edwards's behavior, Lt. Fernandes recalled remaining calm, asking Edwards to exit his vehicle.

          Lieutenant Fernandes stated that, although he could not recall whether he or Edwards opened the door, defendant removed his seat belt. According to Lt. Fernandes, upon exiting the vehicle, defendant instantly lunged at him. When Officer Reposa came around the car to assist Lt. Fernandes, defendant bit Officer Reposa's left middle finger. The officers struggled to bring defendant to the ground, attempting to secure him on his stomach and in handcuffs. Defying handcuffs, defendant hit his head on the pavement. The defendant and Officer Reposa exchanged punches, and Lt. Fernandes recalled defendant biting Officer Reposa's face underneath his left eye. The defendant resisted Officer Reposa's verbal commands to lie on his stomach.

         Eventually, the officers pinned defendant down on his stomach, and both officers held him down. While Officer Reposa attempted to handcuff Edwards, defendant again bit him, this time on his forearm. The defendant continued to resist handcuffs, prompting Lt. Fernandes to spray Edwards in the face with "one short [pepper spray] blast." He further recalled that Officer Reposa retrieved his collapsible baton and struck Edwards's head several times. By this point, Danika and Carol exited the vehicle. Carol tried to pull both officers away from defendant. Danika yelled, but did not physically intervene.

         Lieutenant Fernandes further testified that he eventually took Edwards into custody and placed him in the police cruiser until rescue arrived for hospital transport. The officers also arrested Carol. The rescue then transported defendant to Roger Williams Hospital, where Officer Reposa was also treated. Lieutenant Fernandes testified that he left the scene, reported to the police station, and contacted a certified Breathalyzer operator. At the police station, Lt. Fernandes completed his statement and, per protocol, filled out a use-of-force form. During trial, Lt. Fernandes testified to Officer Reposa's injuries, confirming a scrape on his elbow, and bite marks below his left eye, on his middle finger, and on his forearm. Lieutenant Fernandes also noted that defendant bled from both his mouth and head.

         Next, the state called Officer Michael Troia, a Providence Police Traffic Bureau officer trained in DUI enforcement. Officer Troia testified that at around 7:45 p.m. Lt. Fernandes called him to respond to Roger Williams Hospital because the police suspected that Edwards was intoxicated. Upon his arrival, Officer Troia noted that defendant displayed bloodshot, watery eyes, and he smelled of alcohol. The emergency-room nurse drew two blood vials from defendant. From the hospital, he met with a Bureau of Criminal Identification detective at the police station who secured the blood in a refrigerator. The following Monday, Officer Troia transported the blood to the Department of Health forensic lab. About two weeks later, Officer Troia received the blood test results, which he mailed to defendant's address.

         The state then called Ms. Jennifer Finch, the Principal Forensic Scientist in the Department of Health's Toxicology Laboratory. Ms. Finch testified that she conducted Edwards's blood tests, which revealed an ethanol presence and a blood alcohol level of ninety-seven milligrams per ...

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